Climate Change Could Turn Great Barrier Reef Turtles All Female

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"Collectively, these results suggest that increased sand temperatures affect the sex ratios of the (northern Great Barrier Reef) population such that virtually no male turtles are now being produced from these nesting beaches", researchers wrote.

The study found that 65 to 69 per cent of green turtles in the cooler southern Great Barrier Reef were female while a "staggering" 87 to 99.8 per cent of green turtles in the warmer northern reef were female.

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The temperature at which the turtles will produce male or female hatchlings is heritable, the paper said, but tipped to produce 100% male or 100% female hatchlings within a range of just a few degrees.

All the Australian government's efforts to save the Great Barrier Reef will be for nothing if climate change isn't halted, a report published a year ago in scientific journal Nature found.

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The examination was directed by researchers from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), California State University and Worldwide Fund for Nature Australia.

The feminization of a population of about 200,000 turtles along the east coast of Queensland, Australia, has scientists concerned about its survival.

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For a species where males mate with several females, it is beneficial to be slightly female biased to increase reproductive potential, but Dr Jensen said the problem is scientists do not know how many male sea turtles are needed to sustain a population.

Jensen additionally called the discoveries "somewhat disturbing".

"While we can trust there may be some cooler years to deliver a couple of more guys, general we can anticipate that the temperatures will build", lead creator Michael Jensen of NOAA told the Guardian. "The impacts of rising temperature are particularly pertinent in species with temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD), where the sex of an individual is determined by incubation temperature during embryonic development", they said.

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The research is expected to have other benefits, such as providing ways to track changing sex ratios of species other than turtles.

"Knowing what the sex ratios in the adult breeding population are today and what they might look like 5, 10 and 20 years from now when these young turtles grow up and become adults is going to be incredibly valuable".

World Wildlife Fund Australia head Dermot O'Gorman told the Guardian Australia that environmental change was taking a quiet toll on creatures.

"This is an invisible change. We can't see the impact it's having on a turtle population until a study like this shows some long-term trends".

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